Time to vote for patients' rights -- again

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Montana Standard

It’s crazy to me that we have to vote for medical marijuana AGAIN in Montana, but we do. So allow me to explain how we got here, what the proposed law actually does, and why everyone should vote YES on I-182.

A BRIEF HISTORY In 2004, 62 percent of Montana voters approved Montana’s first medical marijuana program, providing access to medicine for thousands of patients with serious medical conditions. In 2001, the Republican Legislature pulled one of their favorite moves — they repealed and replaced the voter-mandated law with a new system that essentially eliminated medical marijuana as a viable option for most patients. Patient advocates quickly challenged the new, restrictive laws in court and won. The district court blocked five of the Legislature’s worst mandates, allowing patients to continue receiving medication. Montana’s medical marijuana law ping-ponged between the District Court, Attorney General’s office, Legislature, and Supreme Court until 2016 when Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that the Republican Legislature’s bad ideas can be enforced, effectively blocking access to medication for tens of thousands of patients with serious illnesses.

MONTANANS FIGHT BACK We’re not through with medical marijuana in Montana. Not by a long shot. On November 8th (earlier if you vote by mail), you’ll have the opportunity to right these wrongs imposed by a handful of right-wing extremists. Initiative 182 provides common sense solutions to regulate providers, ensure safety, and provide medicine to patients. This issue really hits home for me. Our family watched my husband’s grandma, Imogene, struggle with the pain of fibromyalgia, shingles, arthritis, COPD, and heart problems for years before finally being placed in a hospice program. One day, Imogene, unable to talk, pushed the hospice nurse’s hand away from her mouth, clearly rejecting the prescribed morphine. At a loss, my mother-in-law used Washington State’s medical marijuana laws to access low-dose marijuana lozenges, oil, and spray as an alternative pain killer for our grandmother. Using medical marijuana in place of morphine, Imogene regained her speech and mobility for over a year. She told us that she wasn’t ready for hospice because the Lord hadn’t called her home yet — she needed to get her house in order. She spent a year with her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids and enjoyed a year’s worth of stories, holidays, church, making arrangements, and even eating out at restaurants before she was called home.

I-182 A SOLUTION There are thousands of Imogenes in Montana who are being denied access to medicine as I write. I met them when I served in the 2013 Legislature, where I voted (in the minority) to fix this mess. We as voters have the chance to fix this mess on the ballot by voting for I-182. I-I82 requires providers to obtain licenses and be subject to annual yearly inspections. It allows for testing to ensure adequate dosage and product safety and consistency. I-182 prohibits dispensaries from locating near schools and churches and allows individual communities to establish their own dispensary ordinances. I-182 adds PTSD to the list of illnesses treatable with medical marijuana — something Montana veterans have been asking for for over a decade. The medical marijuana program created by I-182 will be administered and regulated through licensing fees, so it won’t impact the state budget.

Finally, I-182 will create more than 1,000 jobs by allowing dispensaries to legally hire employees. We shouldn’t have to tell the Legislature what we want over and over again. We should elect Representatives and Senators that will honor the will of the people, so that we don’t ever have to vote AGAIN on whether or not to allow patients access to medicine. Please vote “yes” on I-182 to send a strong message to our elected officials that we honor patients' rights and the voters' will in Montana. And, while you’re at it, ask your candidates if they support I-182. Please don’t send folks to Helena who will undo our will.